Book Review: The Auckland Book

The Auckland Book cover imageThe Auckland Book by Nigel Beckford, Michael Fitzsimons, Patrick Fitzsimons, Alisha Brunton, Jess Lunnon, Sandi MacKechnie, Cynthia Merhej, Ivy Niu, Sarah Ryan, Ezra Whittaker-Powley, FitzBeck Creative, ISBN 9780473286033, RRP $45.00

From the team that brought us The Wellington Book and the brilliant The NZ Book there’s now a similarly beautiful The Auckland Book. Written and illustrated by the team at FitzBeck along with seven fantastic young illustrators from AUT, The Auckland Book does an outstanding job of capturing what’s unique and best about the city New Zealanders love and hate.

Page spread from The Auckland BookThe illustrations are quirky, fun and particularly gorgeous in many cases (the Auckland University clock tower and the Grafton page are my favourites). Along with the visual appeal there is also a range of fun facts and observations. And not just for visitors, there was plenty here that I didn’t know (and will now commit to quoting annoyingly), such as:

  • Alice [the tunnel boring machine] travels at up to 8cm a minute, about as fast as a snail;
  • Ponsonby was originally called Dedwood;
  • within a 20km radius of Auckland there are 49 discrete volcanic cones.

Page spread from The Auckland Book 2

The Auckland Book reflects the continuously changing face of our most cosmopolitan of cities, in an affectionate and fun manner.

Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There by Wallace Chapman

Don't Just Do Something, Sit There cover image

Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There: A Manifesto for Living the Slow Life by Wallace Chapman, Penguin, ISBN 9780143568827, RRP $30, Available now.

I am a firm believer in the power of doing nothing and doing it preferably whilst asleep, so I was very keen to read the new book Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There by sometime student radio DJ, political show TV presenter and general well-meaning* and intelligent good guy Wallace Chapman.

In the tradition of two of my favourite books, How to be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson and Change Your Life Without Getting Out of Bed by Sark, Chapman explores the idea of slow and simple living.

And overall he does a great job, covering technology, working, food, sex and health amongst many other topics.

Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There is an enjoyable read and has some interesting bits of information and equally interesting and user-friendly tips on how to slow down and enjoy the world a bit more. Chapman divulges a lot of genuine detail from his own journey in life, from dealing with serious illness to taking the leap into a career you really love.

It also, however, suffers from a teeny bit of quiet pretension and privilege (the cover photo? taken at Clooney in Auckland, because nothing says “downshift your career” like a restaurant that charges $36 for an entree). But, you know, stuff it, the leather couch does look rather comfy.

Really, it’s important to have books like this. Our world is about constant movement, and it’s too easy to forget to ground yourself in what is real and true. The madness of money leads to the sort of ridiculous carry-on we see time and time again, around the world.

Having said that though, it’s always good to have a reminder that history is an endless cycle.

In fact, there is a direct equivalent to the torrent of information one could source off the net. That came in 1453 with the advent of the printing press… In the late 1500s the Dutch humanist Erasmus wrote that printers ‘fill the world with pamphlets and books that are foolish, ignorant, malignant, libellous, mad, impious and subversive; and such is the flood that even things that might have done some good lose all their goodness’.

I don’t know what he’s talking about.

*This was meant to sound a lot more complimentary than it does.

A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell

A History of Food in 100 Recipes cover image

A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell, HarperCollins, ISBN 9780007411993, RRP $49.99, Available 14 June 2013.

It seems this “a history of xx in 100 xx” is now a thing. I assume it all stems from A History of the World in 100 Objects, which is no bad thing since that is a great book (and object and podcast).

This kind of “they’re doing it so why don’t we” copying can produce variable results. Fortunately, however, not in this case.

A History of Food in 100 Recipes is entertaining, mouth-watering and interesting, full of titbits of history, food and eating.

Just as the seizing of the English throne by William of Normandy marked a significant period in English history, so the proliferation of the hair sieve marked a significant moment in its own way, one that you could call WFL, or White Fluffy Loaf. Hence there is the period BWFL (Before White Fluffy Loaf) and AWFL (After White Fluffy Loaf).

Sitwell (a foodie mag editor) goes right back to the ancient Egyptians first making unleavened bread and takes us on a ride through the Middle East, the Mediterranean, Europe, England, France, the Americas, more England, more France, France, France, France, India, Rice Krispie treats, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, France… you get the idea.

And, like any good book, Hitler.

We might not have yet reached her vegetarian paradise, but those apparent “visionaries” have included some pretty distinguished individuals (as well as, er, Hitler).

Let’s face it, food has shaped who we are, and will continue to do so, for better and for worse. Investigating history through food is a damn good idea and even if you’re the most adamant opponent of the “foodie” fad, you’ll still enjoy this.

But if you want another measure of the spirit of these discussions it comes when referencing one Arixtoxenus: “The theatres have become completely barbarised and… music has become entirely ruined and vulgar.” No doubt he also felt that young people had no respect.

Digital State: How the Internet is Changing Everything, edited by Simon Pont

Digital State cover image

Digital State: How the Internet is Changing Everything, written and edited by Simon Pont, Kogan Page, ISBN9780749468859, RRP $42.99, June 2013.

As many pages as there is on the internet, there is an equal amount of pages spent dissecting, analysing, reminiscing and predicting what the internet is, where it’s going and how it’s “changing everything”.

Which is fair enough. It is insane.

Digital State is something of a history of the interwebs, and something of a “where are we going?” projection forward. As is often the case with collections of different writers the quality is a little variable, ranging from ho-hum to decently engaging to crazily out there.

There is some repetition (“I heard about this weird internetty thingy in 199x and so took a good look and wow!”) but overall the message is that our society and culture and economy will never be the same, which is true. Some of the best essays are by Faris Yakob – serious thinking about the possibilities of digital and where we’re going with it –  and Judd Labarthe.

The “I’d like you to meet” schtick at the beginning of every writer’s essay is a little wearing, but overall I’d recommend this for people who don’t just like to use the internet but like to think about what it means.

Note: weirdly I read this in ebook edition and it was a little messed up, with bad layout, lower case when it should have been upper case, a mix of cases in titles and words running together…

A Forager’s Treasury by Johanna Knox

A Forager's Treasury cover image

A Forager’s Treasury by Johanna Knox, Allen & Unwin, ISBN 9781877505164, RRP $37, Available now.

Growing one’s own produce is definitely catching on but foraging (collecting wild plants to use) would at first glance still seem a fairly foreign concept to most town and city-dwelling Kiwis, I would think. On that basis Johanna Knox certainly wins BookieMonster’s “unique idea for the year” award!

But as Knox points out:

At the very least, can any of us say that we’ve never picked a blackberry?

On another basis she’s also in the running for most enjoyable book of the year, because A Forager’s Treasury is not only a detailed and accessible guide to many New Zealand plants, it’s also a recipe book, a household compendium, and an all round entertaining read, even if you have no aspirations to learn your hawksbeard from your hawksbit or your tisane from your tea (not a lot different there except semantics, apparently).

Knox explores both native plants and introduced species, and this would make a fantastic gift for a determined outdoor explorer. I can imagine going on bush works and breaking off bits of plant to bring back and check against the illustrations. Or taking it with me and spending hours annoying a walking companion by insisting on examining every dandelion we come across, and determining exactly which kind of DYC (damned yellow composite) it is.

On a more practical note there’s some really tasty recipes included, and you wouldn’t need to be the most determined forager to enjoy them. I mean, sure I could forage berries or fruit for the Scrumper’s Crumble, but in the middle of winter I could also forage in my local supermarket or farmer’s market, and it’s still going to warm my belly.

And if I want to know even more I can visit the accompanying website –

A Forager’s Treasury is a delightful idea and a charming book.

Nga Tau ki Muri : Our Future by Ans Westra

Nga Kau Ti Muri Our Future book image

Nga Tau ki Muri : Our Future by Ans Westra, Hone Tuwhare, David Lange, David Eggleton, Brian Turner & Russel Norman, Suite Publishing, ISBN 9780473234881, RRP $40, Available now.

Celebrated photographer Ans Westra (Wash Day at the Pa) is back in print with another beautiful and moving portrait of New Zealand, in all its glory and ruin. For Nga Tau ki Muri – Our Future Westra is joined in text by some great names – Hone Tuwhare and David Lange, among others.

We are stroking, caressing the spine of the land.

The focus of both images and text is our country, our nature, and our footsteps upon it. We admire it, we love it but ultimately we are changing it irrevocably.

Wonderfully though Westra is not without hope.

Instead of becoming like the rest of the world, this beautiful place should become a shining example of hope for survival in a newly balanced environment.

Westra’s focus is on juxtaposition, the ruined rusted hulk of a car with a green panoply of bush behind it, the grey and brown layers of stone within a quarry, these are the landscapes she’s captured. Some images work better than others but as the reader moves through the book they all coalesce to produce a sense of sadness and beauty.

And, here and there, the green ribbons will reconnect to form green blankets of regenerating lowland forest.

The production quality is fantastic, with cloth bound embossed covers. Nga Tau ki Muri is a thing of beauty.